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The return of Whisp, and an excellent one - 90%

MA_buyer, July 11th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Old School Music (Limited edition, Digipak)

Iliastrum was summoned up by Whisp, the former female vocalist and keyboardist of Fearlight. The band features academic musicians - which is usually a good starting point in terms of professionalism. That is to say, such people are usually quite comfortable with singing and playing musical instruments. Composition is of course another thing, but Whisp, who authors all music and lyrics on this release, set a good standard on that as early as ten years ago in Fearlight, so the listener would expect some quality composition here.

The album is slightly under 30 minutes in length and of seven tracks in number. The lyrics are all in Russian which may or may not be acclaimed by a non-Russian listener: some do like lyrics in native languages, others do prefer English strictly. English translation of track titles is provided on the backcover, but there's no translation of the lyrics inside, neither the lyrics themselves are found there. This is really a pity because the lyrics are not of a filler kind and surely deserve being published (this I can say as a Russian-speaker who can understand what's being sung).

The general direction of the album, and the music in particular, have nothing left of the pagan metal days of Fearlight. The label describes the band's music as mix of Rhapsody, Nightwish and Angizia. I'd say there's indeed a touch of Angizia's musical approach in a couple of tracks here (which I personally like).

The vocals are female-only, with Whisp as the lead singer and Elizaveta Bokova, a professional operatic singer, on backing vocals. Both vocalists perform excellently. Keyboards play the leading role in compositional structure here, which would be expected given the fact that Whisp is a piano player herself. I don't know if there are live drums (apart from the hang) anywhere in the album (the liner notes say "drum programming"), but that is not very disturbing anyway, because Iliastrum's composition is clearly not focused on drums.

The opening sad ballad "I Had No Fear of Pursuit" does not feature guitars at all. Some may dislike that guitars are kinda back burners in the album, but all compositions are melodic and catchy, there's no boring filler (which of course would have been awful for a 30 minute release). This consideration about guitars, however, is not applicable to all tracks. The second to last track "He Who Does Not Break" and then the wonderful instrumental "On Through Waves of Mist" have the guitar on par with the piano, and that creates two magnificent pieces which you literally wish to listen to over and over. "The Day to Wake Up" sounds like early Nightwish which leaves an impression of cliche on the listener, but the vocals overweigh that negative impression.

The production is not of demo quality on one hand, but it's not of top quality on another. In short, the production quality of this release allows you to enjoy the music, and that's perhaps what's ultimately required of production.

The release comes in digipack; it's not one of those multi-panel digipacks, but a minimalistic one, and with no booklet. However, it features impressive photography which nicely adds up to the overall atmosphere of the album.

It is worth noting that the CD contains a hidden track (which is hinted in the credits, I think). It does not sound like the main content of the album. Instead, it sounds like 100% Summoning. But if you fathom its lyrics you understand that it's intended to be kinda tribute to Summoning - a musical allusion and a bow of respect both at the same time. This is probably unexpected from a band whose music has nothing in common with Summoning, but anyway the listener will find it nice and inspiring to discover this bonus.

Apart from one or two excessively stereotyped arrangements, this album is much recommended and is one of those to which you would like to return - not just listen it once and put on the shelf forever. It does not blindly follow templates, and it is product of a talented mind. It's a pity that, according to the band, they decided to abandon this avenue in terms of style and focus more on acoustic art-songs - which means that "He Who Does Not Break" is the first and last metal work from this project of Whisp. In this view, one is left to hope that this will not turn out to be the only release of Old School Music as well, - for which label it also marked the debut.

Don't pass this by.